I was fortunate to grow up the 11th kid of farmers Max and Lucille, firstly for a few months on a sheep wheat property near Esperance in far east Western Australia, then on a sprawling Cattle Station near Goondiwindi in South West Queensland. The property is my heart and soul, it has been the bases for my life decisions and the core of who I am; the brigalow scrub, the fine breeding stock, the melon holes, the billabongs in the ancient riverbed, the croplands we spent our lives developing and the animals both native and domestic that are under our care and stewardship.
'Retreat Station' is the 35,000 acre home block and my folks have added another four properties totalling 90,000 acres across southern Queensland to the conglomeration to ensure its viability and success through drought and price fluctuations.
Drought, flood, disease, poor government policies and heartache have all perforated the heaven that is 'the farm', but as each year ends we all together as a family, like farmers in every back paddock of the globe, look on to the next with hope and insatiable optimism.
With our local bush school only having a few kids, mum and dad sent me off to boarding school at the young age of 10 to be ready for the inevitable need to go away for high school, it was the beginning of many difficult stints away from the farm. Whilst I have had many adventures in far off lands its my homeland that always draws me back.
Back in 2005 I finally put together enough courage to 'go out on my own'...well sort of... I leased one of the family blocks, 5000 acres of pure beauty with the name 'Ulupna' (for those who are not versed in Australian Aboriginal languages...YA-lup-Nar), and set about planning for cropping in an ancient form, that is using farming techniques not dissimilar to those I had seen in western Britain employed prior to the Industrial Revolution with a heavy slant of Australianisation on them, working with nature not against it.
However nature wanted to teach me the importance of localisation!!
Part of my very integrated plan was to use sheep to manage fallows and assist with the biological control of regrowth to stop the crowding out of grassland....with the ending of rainfall they became the only living part of the farm's production...all my wheat, barley and oat fallows laid bare and as 80% of my breeding females where the Wool growing European descended Merinos they too started to shrivel.
Luckily I had began a breeding programme years before of infusing African and Middle Eastern Breeds into my flock (but had purchased the more economical Merino females to hurry up the process) so I still had saleable prime lambs....however I was savaged at the auctions thanks to being naive and at the mercy of the massive fluctuations of the Queensland Lamb market...Without the budgeted income from the lamb sales I was unable to keep feeding my sheep and as they were heavily pregnant I was unable to transport them to sale for someone else to save.
In my 'Scarlett O'Hara moment' I vowed never to have hungry sheep again and with the help of mates bowed to the public and asked for help, it was probably the hardest thing I have done, and boy was I appreciative we were able to keep the sheep alive, and more importantly keep the dream alive for so many in the country that we were not alone in this relentless drought.
A cultural flaw or quality depending on your view... is that farmers don't ask for handouts so I made every effort to do what I could for charities and others in need, passing on the kindness that had been given to me by way of donating my time and celebrity earnings to a plethora of charities as well as appearing on 'Dancing with the Stars' to highlight the effects of drought of farmers across Australia and raise money for a great rural charity 'Ozcare-Bush Connection'.
In the time since then, with the help of mates, I have turned the farm around despite the continuation of the drought dropping commercial cropping altogether and concentrating on the production of Native grass fed Free Range Lamb and marketing it directly to the public through the Internet and farmers markets in Brisbane and along the Queensland Coast. It was a runaway success, we were selling boxed lamb online, at over 50 farmers markets in Queensland and NSW, built our own butchery and direct to the public shop on the Gold Coast and even set up Lamburger Stalls at Music Festivals and Inner City markets. At Times we would have lines for our product over 80 metres long, it truely was incredible how well we were supported. I even began thinking even bigger supplying school Cafeterias with our Bush Honey Mint and Rosemary Sausages and teamed up with a Pastry company to put Lamb Pasties into Service Stations, started producing organic gourmet dog food and even prepared 'ready to heat' meals for office workers. We received so many accolades including a swag of medals each year from the Sydney Royal Fine Foods Show, Countless Sausage King Awards, Food Innovation Awards..... you name it we probably won it.
Within two years I was working incredible hours running the meat business, lamb stalls and the never ending stream of new ways I was coming up with selling our lamb. Sleeping most nights on the office floor or in the cab of one our fleet of trucks I even went 2 whole months without even getting home to the farm. The tail was wagging the dog and the little 'idea' I had to make the farm viable was now totally consuming my labour and my life. Something had to give and it was not going to be the farm. I handed on the lamb business to my sister and her husband for nothing so that they would have the best opportunity to make it work and keep the large staff employed and continue my dream of giving farmers a decent price for their hardwork. I often been called mad for doing that but what needs to be understood is I reached my goals, I lived out the dream of selling my farm products directly, of being able to share my passion for my farm and my lamb, of testing myself to my limits and proving to myself that I could do it.
Returning home to the farm I had a few chats with my parents and they encouraged me to use my 30's wisely and understand that the farm will always be here and that I should try other things with my talents that had become apparent with the lamb business, that is my ability to communicate and get peoples attention. Well I have done that and am embarking on some exciting new prospects. I sold the majority of my sheep keeping only the fully certified Humane Choice animals, that is the ones with their tails and of the Dorper/Damara/White Dorper genetic mix, they are a beautiful line of sheep. I hope to continue cross breeding the remaining mob into a solid line of Golden fully haired drought and fly strike tolerant, high quality meat sheep with short tails. I have Mareema Guardian Dogs that live with the sheep and are free of any human interferance, they are fed in self feeder drums which are topped up once every 10 days and they protect the sheep from any predators be they foxes , wild dogs or dingoes, they also keep the sheep in a good tight mob stopping them from wandering.
I have 5 horses that keep the grass from being a fire risk around the houses and also make the job of mustering one I absolutely relish, there is nothing more magnificent in life than mustering a mob of sheep with your dogs on horseback in the Queensland outback it is pure heaven.
Check out my videos and pictures to get more of an idea of my life on the farm.